posted 3/14/2006 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
One Page Platforms: Xbox

All you need the story for is to set up the eight levels, each taking you to completely different locations full of new areas to destroy.  Be it a forest next to a border, a graveyard, the docks, or, my favorite, a blown up bridge, Black is a virtual tour of sad and gloomy locations full of guys just looking to kill you.  Each of the levels have a different feel to them and Criterion has given all eight their own unique touches.  None of the game's designs seem very practical, but looking at it from an action movie point of view, all of these locations feel like what you would get out of your average 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick. 

Black's big gimmick is that almost everything that lines the environment can be destroyed in one way or another.  To hammer this point home Criterion has placed most of the enemies right next to things that can be blown up, leading to easy kills and a painless experience.  All throughout the game the bad guys seem to be drawn to cars and boxes that are just waiting to be blown up, making a big chunk of this game entirely too easy.  You will still need to engage enemies one on one with your weapons, but most of the baddies found in this game can be taken out by the environment if you use it to your advantage.

This brings me to one of the biggest problems with Black, the game's AI is terribly dumb, to the point where enemies will hardly notice when you kill their co-workers.  Don't get me wrong, some of them put up a good fight, but for the most part you can have your controller unplugged and still outsmart them.  Perhaps this goes without saying, but these enemies are pretty predictable too, taking some of the tension out of the intense fire fights.  And for whatever reason, you're really only fighting a couple of different foes; the only variation is that some of them wear protective masks.

Despite there only being a couple of different look enemies, it should be said that they look fantastic.  In fact, the entire game is just phenomenal looking.  With all of the chaos unfolding on screen, explosions rocketing into the sky, and bullets whizzing by you might think this is a first generation Xbox 360 title, but it's just a good developer getting the most out of the outdated hardware.  Every single level is fantastic looking, each with their own cool lighting effects and destructible landmarks.  This game really pushes the Xbox to the limits, if there's one thing you won't be disappointed by it's the amazing visuals.

And you won't be complaining about the sound, either.  Black has some of the best audio I have heard in any first-person shooter, regardless of the console.  The sound effects in Black are straight out of the movies, each one a dynamic sound that cuts through the appropriate background music.  Best of all, each of the guns has its own sound, all more impressive than the last.  This is a real treat to the ears, and even better if you have your Xbox hooked up through a nice surround sound set-up.  Even the music sounds like it comes straight out of a Michael Bay movie, pumping you up rush into a big group of bad guys and kill them all while yelling unintelligible gibberish.  Hey, if Sylvester Stallone can do it then why not you?

Sadly, while the attention was going to the games presentation one aspect that was completely overlooked was the gameplay.  Black has just about the most basic control schemes of all time, offering little more than shoot, reload, and crouch.  You can't jump, you don't really open doors (you blow them up) and you can forget about climbing, this game is as basic as they come.  In a lot of ways the control set-up reminds me a lot of first-person shooters from years ago, before Half-Life and Halo had their effect.  It may look like a next generation game, but the controls are strictly old school.

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